I’ve been playing video poker for a very long time, and only once have I had a royal flush dealt to me in the first five cards. When it happened, I was alternating play with my dad, and we split the royal, $500 for him, $500 for me.
On multihand machines, I’ve never had a dealt royal, although I did once draw two on a Triple Play game. I was dealt four high hearts, and on the draw I completed two of the three potential royals. Definitely sweet.
So I can only imagine how sweet it was for Hal, a reader who emailed to tell me of his video poker adventure.
“Have you ever heard of anything like this?” he wrote. “I got 100 royal flushes on the same hand!
“I was playing Hundred Play Poker, where you draw to 100 hands at once. It was 8-5 Double Double Bonus Poker, a pretty crummy game even for pennies in Hundred Play. Yes, it was a penny game, but with a hundred hands my total bet was still $5, just like if I was playing a dollar one-hand game.
“I started with $100, and was down a little. It’s a weird game, because you have some winners and a lot of losers most of the time. One hand, I had four parts of a straight flush, and actually did draw one straight flush, but only five other flushes. So even though I had a straight flush, I lots money for the hand.
“Then it happened. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing at first. The Jack of spades, then the King, the 10, the Ace and finally the Queen. The machine locked up right away. There was no need to draw to that! Then attendant came over and had me sign a tax form, then brought me a check for $4,000. That’s $40 per penny royal, 100 times over!”
Without a doubt, that’s a special hand. Any video poker regular will get a royal every now and then. In five-card draw poker, they come along about once every 40,000 hands. The frequency varies a little as we change games and adapt our drawing strategies to the pay tables. In the 8-5 Double Double Bonus game Hal was playing, royals come an average of once per 40,066 hands.
But a royal on the initial deal is a much rarer treat. That happens with the same frequency as royals are dealt in five-card stud games such as Caribbean Stud and Let It Ride — once per 649,740 hands.
That’s an easy number to calculate. There’s a 1 in 52 chance of any card being dealt on the first card, but the remaining cards then have a 1 in 51 chance of being dealt, then 1 in 50, 1 in 49 and 1in 48. So the number of possible five-card hands dealt in any specific order is 52*51*50*49*48, or 311,875,200.
But card order doesn’t matter. As far as you and the machine are concerned, Ace-King-Queen-Jack-10 of the same suit and Jack-King-10-Ace-Queen are the same hand. Any five-card hand can be arranged in 120 different orders, so we can divide the 311,875,200 possible hands by 120. That leaves 2,598,960 possible hands in which order doesn’t matter.
Divide that by four possible royals — one in each suit — and there is a 1 in 649,740 chance of being dealt a royal in the first five cards.
And on his Hundred Play game, Hal had that 1 in 649,400 shot paid off 100 times over. For a video poker player, that’s about as exciting as it gets.
Gambling author and columnist John Grochowski’s weekly newspaper column began at the Chicago Sun-Times and is now syndicated nationally. He also regularly makes TV and radio appearances about gambling. His column appears weekly.